Meditation tips for stress relief – 3 simple exercises
I have worked as a Massage Therapist for about 10 years and one of the most common reasons for people to make an appointment for a massage treatment is stress.
According to the American Institute of stress (AIS), the five top causes of stress in the United States in 2014 were:
1: job pressure
5: poor nutrition
Statistics also showed that 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
Massage is a great way to relieve stress and tensions in both body and mind. But for those who can’t or don’t want to spend 60 minutes once a month on a massage table, there are other ways to relieve immediate stress.
There are simple techniques you can use at home, at work, in the car, at the shopping centre or whenever you may need it.
You don’t have to be sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed for 60 minutes daily. Many of us might not have that luxury that we can spend an hour daily in peace and quiet, which is why I have outlined some simple techniques and tools that you can use when time and patience is poor.
Breathe x 4
Traditionally, breathing has been part of different forms of yoga as a means of relaxation. Today, deep breathing – or slow breathing – is incorporated in many relaxation programs.
It has been shown that deep breathing is helpful in managing stress, including in the management of male adolescent aggressive behaviour and in reducing anxiety and asthma signs/symptoms of children with asthma.
There are certain common and daily situations where the heart rate usually goes up and we experience stress.
For example; when we are stuck in traffic, running late for work, standing in line to pay for the groceries in the supermarket, when the kids are crying, screaming and dragging their feet, or when we have to present in front of an audience – public speaking.
One of the best tools to use in these situations, is your own breath!
When we are stressed we tend to take short and shallow breaths. When we are calm, generally at nighttime, we take deep and slow breaths.
My best tip when you experience stress, is to take FOUR deep, slow breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose.
Remember – FOUR breaths is enough for an immediate calming effect. Really, it does help.
One way to make sure you breathe correctly, is to put one hand on the belly and one on the chest. During inhalation, you should feel your hand on your belly move more than the hand that is on your chest.
Try it and see if it makes a difference.
1 minute meditation technique
As an introvert, I really don’t like public speaking and I know that I’m not the only one who start trembling before getting up on stage and into the spotlight.
What has helped me in these moments is the 1-minute meditation technique.
Because this is such a short meditation, you can do it anywhere.
If you are at work or at school, just disappear into the toilet rooms, start the meditation and just focus on your breath for one minute. If you are about to get up on stage – focus on and visualise your great performance.
If you are on the bus and heading to a very important meeting, put the timer on for a minute and visualise the positive outcome of your meeting.
Another simple and great exercise that you can do, is to press your thumb and index finger together whilst focusing on your breath. That will keep your mind from wandering too much.
Move your body
I believe that the best way to reduce stress – apart from breathing – is to do some form of physical activity.
The word exercise may put off a lot of people who believe that exercise means going to the gym and do bench press, push-ups and burpees. However, it doesn’t have to be so intense and more importantly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to the gym.
According to Heart Foundation, 30 minutes of physical activity per day can lower the risk of heart disease by 35%, help manage anxiety and depression and lower the risk of dementia later in life. Even 3 x 10-minute blocks during the day is enough to help you reach your physical activity targets for good health.
There are many ways to achieve the 3 x 10-minute blocks of physical activity. Such ways may include taking the stairs instead of the escalator, getting off the bus one stop earlier, park the car a little further away from your destination and meet your friend for a walk and a chat.
My best suggestion is to go for a walk out in nature (if accessible), only 10 minutes is enough to recharge our batteries and release some of those stressful thoughts and worries that keep circulating our brains.
Recommended tools and apps
If you would like to keep track of your stress levels and heart rate, the WellBe bracelet is the one to use. This bracelet will not make your stress disappear, but it can certainly help to point out your worst stressors and keep your stress down. The integrated WellBe app has a series of meditation, breathing exercises, programs and guided meditations from world-renowned mentors. It’s a great present to give someone who needs a gentle reminder to relax.
Guided meditation is something that I use regularly, as I easily get distracted by my mind. You can find guided meditations in the free versions of the apps that I recommended and if you find it helpful, there will always be an option to upgrade to continue on with different meditations, programs and podcasts.
If you are a skeptic to meditation and mindfulness culture – like I used to be – but curious about this topic and how it can be helpful in your life, then Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics might be a good way to start. It’s an easy-to-read book with practical advice and meditation instructions that may suit both the beginner and the advanced meditator.
Make it a habit
To make something a habit – whatever it is that you want to be good at – the key to success is to practice, practice, practice…and practice.
We weren’t born brushing our teeth, we had to make it into a habit.
Stress is also a habit, a bad habit, that we need to tackle before it impacts on our health. The way to tackle stress is first to become aware of it and to become aware of what triggers it. What are the stressors in your life?
One way to increase your awareness is to breathe more deeply, using the method of taking 4 deep breaths every time that you find yourself getting worked up.
When you’re waiting in line to pay the groceries on a Friday evening and you find yourself getting impatient, press your thumb and index finger together and BREATHE. It takes your focus away from the external circumstances and brings awareness back to your body. It’s one way to prevent your stress levels from skyrocketing.
When you find the method and technique that works best for you, make it a daily practice and incorporate it into your schedule, until it becomes a habit – like brushing your teeth.